What is the meaning of striving?

“If God wants me to do that He is just going to have to make it happen.” These are words I hear from my very talented and creative friends often, and they are words I “If God wants me to do that He is just going to have to make it happen.” These are words I hear from my creative friends often, and words I have said too.

There is a narrative in the Christian community that has deemed all striving as wrong. This view implies that if you aren’t completely still and allowing God to hand-deliver every opportunity to you then you are not trusting Him.

There are two issues with this view, and we need to be careful as we approach topics like this because we don’t want to fall into the “ditches” of either extreme. After all, neither are helpful. But as we dissect this topic of striving what we are going to be left with is a healthy tension. We will each have nuanced convictions. So instead of a black and white answer, I want to give us some tools that will bring clarity on where you stand with striving.

First, let me begin by breaking down what I mean by striving. Striving is simply defined as working hard to obtain or achieve something. Now working hard is not bad. We should work hard, work existed in the garden of Eden before the fall. God placed us in the garden to work the land. He created us to have dominion over his creation. That tells me there was work and a human responsibility at play from the beginning of creation before sin ever existed.

We can’t just sit on our hands as Christians and expect God to do everything for us. I love how Dave Ramsey says God feeds the birds but he doesn’t throw the worms in the nest. We have work to do, and sometimes it will be hard work that we will have to strive to complete. 

However, there is unhealthy striving. We were never designed to strive for our identity. That was secured and sealed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We are WHO God says we are before we ever do any work for him. This type of striving often looks like constant hustling. Blowing through boundaries in the name of getting things done. Working day and night from a place of fear that if you stop then your life would become completely untethered.

This type of striving places us at the center of the universe as if we are the ones sustaining ourselves. It’s also very sneaky because sometimes we can mask this unhealthy striving behind ministry work or by cleaning we are doing it for Jesus.

There is only one distinguisher between healthy striving and unhealthily striving—heart motivation.

The problem with this is that is very difficult to unearth our heart’s motivation. But it is not impossible.

One way we can examine our habits and tell if they are slipping into the unhealthy version of striving is to ask ourselves the following questions.

  1. What do I value most?
  2. Are my work/rest habits in alignment with these values?
  3. If I determined no for question two, what needs to change to get back into alignment with these values?
Download my free workbook to start journaling through the three questions today.

Let me give you a real-life example of using these questions to examine my heart’s motivations.

Let’s say my top three priorities right now are my relationship with God, my marriage, my relationships with my kids, and then serving my community.

Based on these priorities, I blocked out a day every single week that I spend quality time with my family. We move slowly and don’t stray far from the house. We don’t have anyone over. The day is reserved for the five of us.

However, I am approached by a girl from my community. She is interested in doing a Bible study, but the only day she is available happened to be my family’s rest day.

If I were striving in the negative sense of the word then I would hustle to make the Bible study happen at the expense of my family time. I might even try to justify it by saying this is for God. But when I examine my habits and ask myself if they are in alignment with my values. My answer is no because what was good work has crossed into striving. I must remind myself God hasn’t asked me to throw out my values to serve Him.

Now can I go to Him and rework some priorities? Of course. If this is something that I feel God is calling me to do then maybe I could change our family’s rhythm to once every other week so I can fit in the Bible Study.

This is the tension I described earlier. By doing this, I’ve determined a way to get back into alignment with what is being served to me to steward in this season of life. I’m still working hard and planning things, but I’m not working so hard I’m throwing my values out the window. 

So again the questions are:

What do I value most?

Are my work/rest habits in alignment with these values?

And if so what do I need to change to get back into alignment?

Let’s not talk ourselves out of the good work God has for us. God doesn’t do everything for us once we belong to Him. We partner with Him to do the good works He created ahead of time for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). But we also don’t have to become unhealthy as we work for Jesus. By asking ourselves a few questions we can expose any unhealthy heart motivations, and continue striving towards the life God has called us to live in a way that honors Him.

Download my “Survival Guide to Striving” workbook for free!

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